During his life, Bach was primarily known as a dazzling organist with virtuoso improvising abilities. Not surprisingly, his prowess gave rise to a number of urban legends.
One such legend had him traveling incognito, dressed as a village schoolmaster, going from church to church to try out the organs—prompting one local organist to cry out, “I don’t know who’s playing, but it’s either Bach or the Devil!”
This according to “Tod und Teufel” by Frieder Reininghaus, an essay included in Bach-ABC (Sinzig: Studio-Verlag, 2007, pp. 91–93).
Today is Bach’s 330th birthday! Below, the tocatta and fugue in D minor, BWV 565, which always seems to surface around Halloween.
In 1664 Louis XIV gave his first great fête at Versailles, a small hunting box built by his father and which the Roi Soleil was transforming into the astonishing château that would materially represent the political, economic, and artistic supremacy of France. Officially honoring Queen Marie-Thérèse and Queen Mother Anne d’Autriche, the entertainments were in fact dedicated to Louise de La Vallière, the king’s first maîtresse en titre.
Foremost among those who took part in the spectacle was the young warrior king himself, clad in jewel-encrusted gold and silver armor as the chevalier Roger, who, at the bidding of the sorceress Alcine, arrives with his retinue to entertain the queens over the course of several days in Les Plaisirs de l’Île Enchantée.
In 1668 Le Grand Divertissement Royal de Versailles, the most extravagant of the king’s fêtes, celebrated the glory of Louis XIV after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle. The éclat of the brilliant and youthful court, entertained with fireworks, tournaments, dance, music, and theater, was heightened by collaborations between two of the greatest names in the dramatic arts: Lully and Molière.
Les plaisirs de l’Île enchantée (La Princesse d’Élide); George Dandin ou Le mari confondu (Le grand divertissemant royal de Versailles) (Hildesheim: G. Olms, 2004) is a new edition of the keyboard score for the comédies-ballets La princesse d’Élide (1664) and George Dandin (1668); it is part of Olms’s Œuvres complètes of Lully.
Above, the official commemorative engraving of Festin du roi et des reines from 1664; below, excerpts from Lully’s score for La princesse d’Élide.
On 8 May 1736 London’s Weekly advertiser reported on an exhibition of a musical clock to the Queen, giving “uncommon satisfaction to all the Royal Family present”. Although two descriptions survive, the machine itself is lost.
However, the discovery among Händel’s MSS of two sets of tunes for musical clock suggest that the composer was, at the very least, intrigued by the instrument’s capabilities—it is also possible that this machine, or one like it, played these very works. Clearly Händel was not averse to mechanical reproduction of his works, and he may indeed have heard it happen!
This according to “Handel’s clock music” by William Barclay Squire (The musical quarterly V/4 [October 1919]) pp. 538–552.
Today is Händel’s 330th birthday! Above, a musical clock by Charles Clay, the inventor of the machine reported on in 1736; below, Händel’s works performed on a toy piano.
The Deák–Szentes manuscript includes the most important melodies of the second part of the hymn text collection Cantionale catholicum, compiled by the Franciscan János Kájoni (Ioan Căianu) in 1676, and revised by Balás Ágoston for a new edition in 1719.
These tunes preserve the Székely hymn tradition of Csík, Transylvania, in the customary notation of the 18th century. Along with the songs from Kájoni’s Cantionale, the manuscript contains Masses, Kyries, Baroque hymns, and traditional hymn texts.
Although today the manuscript is incomplete, it has been reconstructed with the help of earlier copies for a new edition: A Deák-Szentes kézirat/The Deák–Szentes manuscript, edited by Réka Kővári (Budapest: Magyarok Nagyasszonya Ferences Rendtartomány, 2013).
Below, a selection from the Cantionale catholicum.
Albert Schweitzer’s transcendentalism goes beyond talent and imagination—it is the literal embodiment of truth. When listening to his performances of Bach’s organ works one feels that in every important detail one is listening to Bach himself.
Schweitzer had studied with Charles-Marie Widor, the leading authority of his day, and he was familiar with German organs from Bach’s era; but his connection to the music was far deeper than that of an apt pupil.
Part of the reason for this is Schweitzer’s own resonance with the composer’s character, particularly regarding the relationship between spirituality and service. Rather than interpreting Bach’s works, Schweitzer revealed them.
This according to “The transcendentalism of Albert Schweitzer” by Archibald Thompson Davison, an essay included in The Albert Schweitzer jubilee book (Cambridge: Sci-art, 1945, pp. 199–211).
Today is Schweitzer’s 140th birthday! Below, performing Bach’s fantasia and fugue in g minor, BWV 542.
BONUS: Practicing at home, with kibitzing from a friend.
In 2013 Breitkopf & Härtel launched the Bach series Sämtliche Orgelwerke/Complete Organ Works with Präludien und fugen I/Preludes and fugues I, edited by David Schulenberg.
In this new edition Schulenberg presents a new evaluation of the extant sources, based as faithfully as possible on the manuscripts that can be traced back to Bach or to his circle, generally choosing one source as his principal one. Divergences from other sources are documented in the commentary.
Sometimes this new edition emends long-cherished readings of ornaments, voice leading, and notation. Also printed in Volume 1 is an early version of the C major Prelude BWV 545 that includes a trio movement, making a three-movement version of this work.
The CD-ROM enclosed in Volumes 1 and 2 contains dubious works and secondary versions for comparison with the principal versions; these CD-ROMs are entirely in both German and English.
Below, Alexander Kellarev performs the BWV 545 prelude and fugue.
When Rosalyn Tureck was first studying piano, Bach’s keyboard music was widely considered to be primarily didactic—good for training in pianistic skills, but too dry for the concert hall. Tureck, however, was fascinated with this repertoire, and started making a point of memorizing a prelude and fugue pair every week.
At the age of 16 she moved to New York City to study at Julliard, and immediately declared her interest in specializing in Bach. Her teachers there were encouraging, but others were not: at the Naumberg Competition, for example, she made it to the finals but the jury declined to give her the award because they were convinced that nobody could make a career out of playing Bach.
Tureck persevered, keeping her repertoire centered on Bach while continuing to pursue her interest in new music. In the 1950s she began to focus more exclusively on Bach, and in 1957 she moved to London, having found that European audiences were more eager for Bach programs than U.S. ones.
This according to “Rosalyn Tureck, pianist specializing in Bach, dies at 88” by Allan Kozinn (The New York times CLII/52,549 [19 July 2003] p. A:11).
Today is Tureck’s 100th birthday! Below, the prelude and fugue in A minor, BWV 895, in 1962.
Bach’s Brandenburgische Konzerte are not the epitome of absolute music, as some scholars contend; rather, they comprise an allegory of princely virtues. This reading of the works puts them in the framework of both Bach’s cantatas and the allegorical iconography that was common in the decorations of Baroque palaces.
Although not all the concertos were conceived in relation to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, they were chosen for the cycle dedicated to him and are meant to reflect themes connecting him to particular figures in classical mythology: the hunter (Diana), the hero (Hercules), the patron of the arts (Apollo and the Muses), the shepherd (Pan), the lover (Venus and Mars), and the scholar (Athena).
This according to “Bachs mythologisches Geheimnis: Philip Pickett, Reinhard Goebel und das verborgene Programm der Brandenburgischen Konzerte” by Karl Böhmer (Concerto: Das Magazin für Alte Musik XII/109 [December–January 1995–96] pp. 15–17).
Above, Venus and Mars presenting arms to Aeneus by Gérard de Lairesse (1641–1711; click to enlarge). Below, the Freiburger Barockorchester performs the corresponding concerto.
In 1657 Samuel Capricornus was summoned from Pressburg (now Bratislava) to take up the position of Kapellmeister to the Stuttgart court of Duke Eberhard III of Württemberg—to the surprise and disappointment of the organist of the Stuttgart collegiate church, Philipp Friedrich Böddecker, a distinguished composer in his own right, who had hoped to obtain the job himself.
Disputes quickly arose between Capricornus and Böddecker, as well as Böddecker’s brother David, a zinck player, who complained that Capricornus had required him outside the provisions of his contract to play the quart-zinck and to sing “such high-pitched, difficult passages” (so hohe und schwehre Stückh) that he was unable to comply “because of bodily weakness, short breath, and also declining vocal ability” (Leibsschwachheit, kurzem Athems, auch vergehende Stimme halber); and furthermore had insulted him publicly, saying he played the zinck “only like a cow-horn.”
Capricornus responded with a lengthy complaint of his own, presenting a gloomy picture of conditions in the ducal musical establishment and accusing the organist Böddecker of gluttony and drunkenness (Fressereien und Saufereien) and of being at the center of a whole network of intrigue against the Kapellmeister; moreover, “[he] did not deal especially gently with his inimical rival from the organ bench, and used all the arts of dialectic and learning to convict him of musical ignorance.”
This according to “Samuel Capricornus contra Philipp Friedrich Böddecker” by Josef Sittard (Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft III/1 [November 1901] pp. 87-128), which includes a complete edition of Capricornus’s grievance letter as found by the author in the ducal archives.
Below, Capricornus’s Adesto multitudo coelestis.
Celos aun del aire matan: Fiesta cantada (opera in three acts) (Middleton: A-R editions, 2014) is a critical performing edition of the earliest extant Hispanic opera, Celos aun del aire matan by Juan Hidalgo (1614–85). The work is the most extensive surviving example of Hispanic Baroque theatrical music.
Designed for the Spanish royal court’s festivities honoring the marriage of Infanta María Teresa of Spain and King Louis XIV of France, this passionate fiesta cantada in three acts was first produced in Madrid, thanks to the collaboration of Hidalgo and the court dramatist, Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–81). The opera was designed for performance by a cast of young female actress-singers (the only role requiring a male voice is for a comic tenor) and a continuo group.
This edition, which includes an extensive introduction, an English translation of the Calderón text, and a unique loa from the 1682 Naples production, contributes to a better understanding of Hidalgo’s music and the contribution of Hispanic music to early modern musical culture.
Above and below, moments from a 2000 performance of the work at the Teatro Real in Madrid.